great excitement It’s hard to beat, but in the age of streaming, there are also plenty of duds out there, making empty promises in trailers that never come to fruition during the actual movies. The best thrillers hook you from the start with the premise that something isn’t quite right, and tension starts to build throughout until you’re biting your nails in anxiety, hugging your legs on the couch in the dark, and ignoring your popcorn completely. .
So let’s go back to an era that you might not normally think of for thrillers. We’re talking pre-70s, mostly black and white movies that will give you the chills and thrills you’re looking for.
10 What happened to Jane’s baby? (1962)
Even just knowing the backstory of this 1962 cult classic will tell you what a good ride you’re in. The aging lead actresses, Bette Davis (Jane, formerly “Baby Jane”) and Joan Crawford (Blanche) despised each other (2017 Ryan Murphy series) runner was based on the film’s production), and has the distinction of being the first of the “surprisingly suspenseful” genre, which includes Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (also starring Davis), W.J Who killed Aunt Roo? (starring Shelley Winters), among others.
In her youth, Baby Jane was a spoiled, unpleasant, sickly sweet vaudeville star, and her sister Blanche lived in her shadow, but as they grow up, Blanche’s stardom outshines Jane, and she becomes a respected movie star while Jane becomes a star. Alcoholic. Now years later, Blanche is confined to a wheelchair after an accident on Jane’s drunken watch. Running out of money as well as Jane’s sanity, and while she plots an unlikely return to stardom, Blanche plots an escape. The movie is full of moments that will make you jump, and it’s easy to see why the filmmakers would try to capitalize on its success with more films about dangerous old ladies.
9 M (1931)
That’s a lot to ask, but we promise this 1931 Fritz Lang classic is well worth your time. It was a first in many categories: Lang’s first sound film, first use of long-form tracking shots, and first use of a leitmotif (Peter Lorre’s serial child killer whistles Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King In the same ominous way you hear Michael K. Williams is coming Omar whistling farms in Dale on the wire).
A young girl named Elsie goes missing in Berlin, and we get an early example of police action when the perpetrator, Hans Beckert (Laurie), taunts the police with a letter claiming responsibility. The Berlin police attack notoriously criminals, and the Ringvereine (criminal underworld) are driven into action to track down the killer themselves rather than continue to suffer harassment at the hands of the police. It was a career-defining role for Laurie, and you’ll never be able to hear it In the Hall of the Mountain King Without shivering again.
8 Les Diaboliks (1955)
Hitchcock was famously in the running for the script, but Henri-Georges Clousot got the job, and it’s hard to believe that even The Master of Suspense could have made a more nerve-wracking film than Clousot released in 1955, starring Simone Signoret, Vera Clousot (the director’s wife), and Paul Morris.
Michel Delasalle (Maurice) is a bad, tyrannical principal at a run-down school owned by his sick schoolteacher wife, Cristina (Clouzzo), while having an affair with another teacher, Nicole (Signorette). United in their hatred of Kaci Michel, the women hatch a plot to kill him, tranquilize him, and drown him in a bathtub before dumping his corpse into the school’s swimming pool, expecting it to eventually be discovered and deemed an accident. bump? The body is never shown, and the women are thrown into the horrifying reality that Michel is alive and looking for revenge. There are twists and turns you’ll never see coming, aided by outstanding performances from the three leads.
7 And Then There Were None (1945)
Famed French director Rene Clair’s take on one of Agatha Christie’s most disturbing novels in 1945 features ten people at a mysterious weekend party off the coast of Devon, all unknown to each other and to their hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owen. Instead of the guests being greeted by their hosts, they are met by a pair of servants playing a record accusing each guest (including the servants themselves) of murder.
Knowing they won’t be able to leave the island until the end of the week takes on new significance as the guests begin to die, according to the poem “Ten Little Indians.” As the guest list shrinks, the fear of the rest grows exponentially, as they race against time to find out where the killer is hiding, or if the killer is already among them.
6 Peeping Tom (1960)
Michael Powell of Powell and the Pressburger ventured out on his own to direct this 1960 thriller, and though his career suffered some negative attention because of it, Peeping Tom has now achieved cult status. It’s the gruesome and horrific story of a serial killer, Mark (Karl Baum), who gets a thrill from filming women as he kills them. Painfully shy, Mark longs to be a real director, but there is only one type of movie he wants to make.
It transpires that Mark’s bizarre obsession stems from experiments performed on him by his psychologist father while he was studying the effects of fear on the brain. The stakes rise when he meets a young woman, Helen (Anna Massey), and reveals his dark secret to her. It’s a film whose psychological complexities inspired both Hitchcock and Scorsese, and despite the initial shock at its ugliness, the film has risen to be one of the best British films ever made.
5 The Third Man (1949)
This 1949 British noir brought together something of a dream team, including Carol Reed as director, Graham Greene as screenwriter, and an ensemble cast including Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, and Orson Welles. Cotten plays the somewhat naive Holly Martins, who is new to Vienna after a job offer from his childhood friend Harry Lime, but once he arrives, he learns that Harry has fallen to the ground and been killed in a car crash.
After interviewing a few of Harry’s friends and acquaintances, it becomes clear that there are some differing accounts of Harry’s death, most importantly whether it was two or three men who carried his body away. Holly finds himself caught up in a game of cat and mouse with someone who may or may not be dead, and that Harry’s black market dealings have led to the deaths of children. Brilliant Dutch angle camera technology, used on the dark and rainy streets of post-war Vienna, a soulful soundtrack by Anton Karas, and performances from Cotten, Willis, Howard, and Alida Valli all contribute to making this still twisted and turning film one of the best films of all time.
4 Night of the Hunter (1955)
After an initially disappointing reception, Hunter’s Night It is now considered one of the best films ever made. Charles Laughton directed Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters in the chilling story of Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum), a serial killer just out of prison and hot on the trail of a $10,000 heist. His former cellmate tells him about the money but not its whereabouts before he is hanged for murder, and Powell is determined to get it out of the man’s children, John and Pearl, so he proceeds to have an affair with their mother (Winters).
He slips into the town’s (and the widow’s) feelings by playing himself a preacher, but the kids have their doubts. From James Agee’s script to Mitchum’s incredibly chilling rendition of the hymn “Leaning in Everlasting Arms,” this story of children in peril (protected at one point by silent film star Lillian Gish as a gun-wielding foster mother) is just as fraught and tense today as it was then. Its release in 1955
3 Elevator to the gallows (1958)
It’s a fact that the best laid plans often go awry, and Louis Malle’s 1958 film stars Jean Moreau and Maurice Ronet as a pair of scheme lovers who discover just that. Florence (Moro) and Julien (Ronet) conspired to kill Florence’s husband, Simon, and planned every detail. Julian will use a rope to climb into Simon’s office and stage a suicide, relying on a security guard and a secretary to act as his alibis.
However, upon leaving the building after the murder, Julian realizes he has left the rope dangling outside, and must return to remove it. He returns to the office, leaving his car running, and the elevator has just started when the security guard pulls it off for the weekend. Florence is distraught when Julian does not show up at their meeting point, but sees his car drive by with a woman in the passenger seat. From that one misstep of the rope, the entire plot quickly unravels, and mistaken identities further complicate matters. Add an innovative score by Miles Davis, and you’ll never look at an elevator the same way again.
2 Gaslight (1944)
How long does George Cukor’s 1944 thriller last? Gaslight? Well, we still use that term today. Ingrid Bergman is Paula, who is still a young woman when her beloved opera singer aunt is murdered. Eager to become a singer, she is still recovering from the traumatic experience when she is seduced by her accompanist, Gregory (a menacing Charles Boyer), who very quickly talks her into giving up her singing career and returning to her aunt’s house. He soon jokes about her forgetfulness and tendency to steal things, which Paula denies until he starts coming up with evidence.
A maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury in her first role), is assigned to look after Paula in what her husband perceives as her fragile state of mind, and it’s not long before Paula believes everything he says about her, and becomes afraid of her outside of the house. With each day Anton gets closer to convincing Paula of her madness, will he succeed? Bergman gives a gritty performance as a woman struggling to prove her sanity, showing the insidious true meaning of what we now call “gaslighting.”
1 Rebecca (1940)
“Last night, I dreamed that I went to Manderley again.” Thus began the 1938 novel Daphne du Maurier and its 1940 adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Joan Fontaine as the unnamed protagonist and Laurence Olivier as the mysterious widower she marries, Maxime de Winter, this movie was always a big hit, winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
After a whirlwind romance, Fontaine’s young bride is brought back to de Winter’s stately home, Manderley, where she begins to uncover the secrets of his past, especially his first wife, the larger-than-life Rebecca. Or at least, she tried, but was continually bogged down by her husband’s silence and the sinister quirks of her housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). Horror increases as she draws closer to the truth, wondering if she can live up to the first Mrs. de Winter, or if she even wants to.